The monolingual approach in American linguistic fieldwork
In the first decades of the 20th century, fieldwork — collection of language data through direct interaction with a native speaker — was foundational to American linguistics. After a mid-century period of neglect, fieldwork has recently been revived as a means to address the increasing rate of language endangerment worldwide. Twenty-first century American fieldwork inherits some, but not all, of the traits of earlier fieldwork. This article examines the history of one controversial issue, whether a field worker should adopt a monolingual approach, learning and using the target language as a medium of exchange with native speakers, as opposed to relying on interpreters or a lingua franca. Although the monolingual approach is not widely practiced, modern proponents argue strongly for its value. The method has been popularized though ‘monolingual demonstrations’ to audiences of linguists, which, curiously, are not wholly consistent with the character of 21st-century fieldwork.
Keywords: field methods, monolingual approach, monolingual demonstration, linguistic fieldwork, 20th century American linguistics, Franz Boas, Kenneth L. Pike, Daniel L. Everett
Published online: 16 March 2021
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